KEIGHLEY COUGARS have continued their list of impressive signings as they prepare for life in the Championship.
Ben Crooks, who recently left Hull KR after a four-and-a-half-year stay, has been joined by fellow ex-Super League players Brad Walker (Wakefield) and Ellis Robson (Warrington) in moving to Cougar Park for 2023.
All three players have signed two-year contracts and their arrivals send out a real signal of intent ahead of the club’s return to the second tier.
But despite the heavy investment in recruitment, coach Rhys Lovegrove knows the Cougars, who were last week named as League One Club of the Year, are approaching their promotion in the right way.
“We may not be the perfect model for running a club, but it is certainly working and something we’ve all enjoyed being part of,” said Lovegrove, who was also awarded the League One Coach of the Year prize.
“We run a sustainable business model here where the owners like to do things properly and my players buy into that.
“We have always spoken about trying to recruit the right people for the club and creating value in the shirt so it is important we bring players in that add value
“Me and Hendo (Andrew Henderson) had a discussion about the sort of players we’ve worked well with in the past that could become Keighley Cougars players, so it was a unique profile that we were looking for. But we’ve done that and hopefully the new signings will fit in to the club as well as this year’s squad have.
“It is important that we do things in stages and approach each stage properly. We approached League One in that way and we will approach the Championship in the same way.
“We have made some great signings for next season, but we have also been very meticulous about them to make sure it all fits financially and within the business plan, so I am excited for the next chapter for the club.”
Lovegrove was also quick to praise the clubs owners after picking up his individual prize during last Monday night’s award ceremony.
“I am hugely grateful for the chance the owners here have given me,” said Lovegrove, who took up the role at the club in June 2019.
“Not many owners would take a punt on a 32-year-old coach that had only coached four games as a caretaker head coach before. But they did that and then gave me the time to iron out the kinks, because I know there are lots of things I did that I now look back on and know they were wrong.
“They have allowed me to grow with the club and I really appreciate that.”
CORNWALL coach Neil Kelly couldn’t be happier with the way fledgling supporters in the southwest have taken the club to heart.
Despite the area not being steeped in Rugby League, the Choughs were still regularly attracting four figure crowds to their games, in what was a difficult debut season for the club – winning just won of their 20 games.
“It has surprised me a bit just how the local community took to us, with regular crowds in excess of 1,000 coming along to watch us,” said Kelly.
“A lot of that credit has to go to the other teams because they have tended to bring a couple of hundred fans down with them to watch the game. We do acknowledge that, but that still means we have 800-900 people coming to watch us on a weekly basis.
“And those supporters have come in and are knowledgeable. They weren’t just there for the novelty value; they knew what was happening.
“They have shown great knowledge and patience with the team and I have to say support has been as good as anywhere else in the league.”
Welsh forward Charley Bodman has signed a new deal with the club that will see him remain at the Memorial Ground until the end of 2023. And he too has credited the fans for making his time at the club so enjoyable.
“I loved the time I spent with the club as the team was great and so were the supporters,” said Bodman, who joined in June and made his debut in the club’s first ever win – a 24-4 victory over West Wales Raiders.
“I know the mullet got me some attention and some said I was an instant cult hero but I didn’t see it like that.
“The main thing for me was that it was completely different to play in front of new fans who have never really watched Rugby League before.
“The supporters were always very encouraging and supportive. They didn’t try and tell us how to play the game from the sideline and I found that very refreshing.”
MIDLANDS HURRICANES coach Richard Squires has confirmed that one of the amateur players that was drafted in at the end of last season will remain at the club in 2023.
With injuries and unavailabilities taking their toll on the Hurricanes, Squires was forced to bring in players from the community game to be able to name a full team.
One of those players was Dom Flanagan, who impressed Squires enough to be offered a permanent deal with the cub.
“The guys we brought in from the amateur game at back end of the year really helped us out a lot,” admitted Squires.
“We know there is some real talent in the NCL and we used those games as a bit of a trial for those guys.
“Dom was one of two of those players who played in all four of our final games and he has now progressed from that and will be joining us a permanent deal for next year.
“He has the potential to play higher up but he has a really good job, so it’s not really something he’s looked at before. That means he is probably still a bit behind the speed of the game and maybe not fit enough yet for where he needs to be for League One. But his time here this year was sprung on him, but with a full pre-season under his belt and working closely with myself and a few other people, he’ll be a real threat.
“He really offered us some physical presence that we’d maybe been missing all season. He’s a tough kid who has been playing for long time, so he knows the game inside out, which also helps.”
SWINTON LIONS coach Allan Coleman has said his plans for next year’s squad were always going to stay the same, regardless of the outcome of Sunday’s promotion decider against Doncaster.
Coleman and the Lions have been talking to many players over the last couple of weeks about 2023 without knowing what league they would be playing in. But Coleman believes that the players on his wish list will do well in either competition.
“We have been speaking to players and making it known to them that there are two offers on the table,” said Coleman.
“We were telling that if get what we want and go up there is an offer for them but if don’t there is still an offer there.
“The squad we have identified doesn’t change. If we get who we want and we’re still in League One next year, then we are a stronger side than this year, but if we’re in the Championship then they’ll do a job for us in that competition.”
HUNSLET have continued to build their squad for next season, with three more players putting pen to paper on deals with the club.
Jake Sweeting, who spent much of 2022 on loan at the club from Dewsbury, is joined at the South Leeds Stadium by Midlands Hurricanes duo Jordan Bull and Tyler Walton.
Head coach Alan Kilshaw believes Sweeting, a halfback or fullback, will continue to improve after making an impression on the club during his loan spell, while Bull and Walton also made their presence felt in a 24-0 win over Hunslet in July.
“We are delighted to make Jake a permanent signing,” said Kilshaw.
“He has a really good kicking game and is an outstanding goalkicker.
“We will see the best of him in a Hunslet shirt next season, playing in a settled role and in a settled side. Jake’s a good age and has plenty of development in him.
“We were very close to taking Jordan last season so we are happy to have got him over the line this year. He’s a big physical presence and his development over the past few seasons has been really good. He can operate at loose forward, back row and even in the centre, so he’s a very useful addition to the group, and we are looking forward to working with him.
“Tyler is a tough player with a huge engine. He regularly plays 80 minutes in the middle and punches well above his weight. He will rip in, and can also ball play through the middle. He was a stand-out performer for the Hurricanes last season and we’re delighted to add him to the squad.”
ROCHDALE HORNETS have headed south to bring two new faces to the club for 2023 with both Joe Purcell and Cole Connolly joining from Cornwall.
Purcell began his career at Halton Hornets, before joining hometown club Widnes Vikings where he played for their development side. The 23-year-old also represented Wigan Warriors’ under-19 outfit, before making the move to the south coast.
Rochdale-born Connolly joined the Choughs mid-way through last season after playing for Rochdale Mayfield and can play both hooker and in the halves.
“I am delighted to have Joe on board. He comes with a good pedigree having been in both Widnes and Wigan Academy systems,” said Hornets coach Gary Thornton.
“For a young man to move away from his hometown and back his own ability shows great character. He put himself in the shop window at League One level, and has done well down there playing pivot in a development team with developing players around him.
“Following his decision to come back up north, there was interest from a few rival clubs, so I am really pleased he chose Rochdale to further his development.
“Cole took up the challenge and dipped his toe into semi-professional Rugby League at Cornwall and he adapted really well to the step up in skill levels, intensity and physicality.
“He has shown enough to prove he is now ready to kick on at this level and realise his potential.”
LONDON SKOLARS have re-signed more members of their 2022 squad as preparations for next year continue.
Staying at New River Stadium are Matt Ross, who re-joined the club in May after a season in the French Elite 1 league for Toulouse, and powerful prop Henry Daventivalu.
“Matt really added to the squad when he came in from France,” said head coach Joe Mbu.
“He is a high work rate loose forward who makes very few errors.
“Henry came to us late last year but made a big impact in the games he played. We want to have a big, physical pack and Henry fits right into that.”
Dummy-half Doug Chirnside, who made 13 appearances for the side in 2022, has also re-signed.
DONCASTER second rower Alex Holdstock was adamant his side would leave nothing on the field in Sunday’s Promotion Play-Off final on Sunday.
The 21-year-old was part of the side beaten by Workington Town at the same stage last year and has said that defeat added to their motivation against the Lions.
Prior to the game Holdstock said: “The key for me is to come off the field with no regrets, no matter the result I don’t want to be coming off wondering what might have been.
“The saying is that you have to lose a final to win one, the experience of last year can only help the lads that were here.
“A club like Doncaster with the staff and everyone involved deserves to be in the Championship, now it’s our job to take us there.”
PREPARING for next season will now no doubt be an easier task for North Wales Crusaders coach Andy Moulsdale, now that the club knows what league it will be in.
For a second year in succession the Crusaders finished third, but failed to win either of their play-off games, meaning it’s another year in League One in 2023.
“While we were still in the play-offs it was a case of getting the message out to the players that we were planning on both scenarios – Championship and League One – and trying to keep everyone on board,” said Moulsdale.
“All our lads are really good and understood the situation, but we were three or four weeks away from the end of the season and not able to do much planning for next year so it was tough.
“But I would have rather had that problem than missing out on play-offs.”
It doesn’t look like OLDHAM coach Stuart Littler will be pulling his boots on again in a hurry.
The 43-year-old Leigh, Salford and Swinton centre star retired from playing in 2016, but turned out for a Leigh All-Stars team at the end of last month in a charity match to raise money for the ‘Life For A Kid’ charity.
While he got through the adapted game relatively unscathed, it reminded him why he hung up his boots and went into coaching.
“It’s a wonderful charity — and who wouldn’t play Rugby League to help children who are disadvantaged and don’t enjoy the privileges that most of us take for granted,” said Littler.
“That alone made it a special day. Rugby League is brilliant at this sort of thing and long may it continue. It was also a great day from the socialising point of view. It was brilliant to turn back the clock and to meet up again with loads of former players, both team-mates and opponents.
“It wasn’t full-on contact, so that helped. Tackling was controlled and even though some of the guys did what came natural to them in terms of tackling, it was still easier than a normal game.
“I shudder to think what the aches and pains would have been like next day if it had been full contact.”
WEST WALES RAIDERS chief executive Peter Tiffin has once again backed the passion of coach Ashley Bateman.
The former player returned to the club as coach just weeks before the season started, and even had to pull on his boots to turn out a team against Cornwall in June.
“Ash loves this club and has seen it from all angles, so knows what it’s all about,” said Tiffin.
“He is willing to chuck himself into anything – the board, on the pitch and speaking to Wales Rugby League.
“He is fully committed to the club and we are fully supportive of what he’s trying to achieve – that won’t happen overnight and we know that, but you have to take the rough with the smooth.”
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